At this point, Hollywood releases about a half-dozen disaster films per year, and the target of their wrath extends far and wide. In the last few years, 2012 crumbled Las Vegas, Rio de Janeiro and the Vatican. GI Joe toppled the Eiffel Tower. 28 Weeks Later firebombed London. Since November, extra-terrestrials have shown a particular fondness for Los Angeles, destroying it first in Skyline, then more spectacularly in Aaron Eckhart's big-budget Battle: Los Angeles. A few weeks ago, it was Chicago's turn to get obliterated by robots in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and, of course, New York has been ravaged in everything from Cloverfield to The Day the Earth Stood Still to Knowing. Yet, amid all this destruction, one country has either remained intact or been silently eradicated off-screen: Canada.
When films like Independence Day show news reports of spacecraft threatening major global cities, they always seem to leave out Calgary or Montreal. For some reason, Godzilla has yet to make a detour to Halifax and Roland Emmerich has yet to drop an aircraft carrier on Medicine Hat. And when Canadian landmarks are destroyed on film, like Vancouver's Lion's Gate Bridge in the centerpiece action sequence of the upcoming Final Destination 5 or Toronto City Hall in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, they're meant to be located either in the U.S. or in a fictional metropolis.
The more you think about it, this lack of apocalyptic destruction isn't just baffling – it's infuriating, and more than a little bit depressing. Disaster movies target cities like Los Angeles and London because they occupy a massive place in the global imagination. 2012 toppled the Vatican because it's the biggest symbol of one of the world's major religions. The fact that Canada hasn't been attacked on film has an implicit, dispiriting message: The rest of the world just doesn't care about us, or about that giant antenna we built in the middle of downtown Toronto. As architecture professor Max Page wrote in the Boston Globe, the fact that New York is the frequent setting of people's worst fears means that it is also the home to their greatest hopes. If Canada never bears witness to its own destruction, it suggests we have nothing worth destroying in the first place.
The closest Canada has come to being blown up in a Hollywood film was in 1998's Deep Impact, when the American president announced in a solemn press conference that a comet “the size of New York City” was going to hit Western Canada and kill off most of the planet – a line that made my Edmonton movie theatre burst out in wild applause. Unfortunately, the comet was destroyed before it could flatten Regina.
Curiously, Canadian filmmakers haven't seemed particularly interested in telling these kinds of apocalyptic stories either. Of course, that's largely due to the budgetary constraints of the Canadian film industry, which could barely pay for a fraction of Transformers' explosives budget, but aside from a few movies like Last Night and the modest Pontypool (neither of which showed much actual destruction of property), narratives of massive annihilation have been strangely absent from our own filmmaking. It may be that our culture of national modesty keeps us from thinking in such grand terms, but it might also have to do with our ambivalent feelings about our own achievements. As the cliché goes, we're a people wary of celebrating our own success, and to obliterate ourselves on film would, conversely, do just that.
But that's also precisely why it's so important that we do. If Canada crafts a compelling vision of Canadian disaster, whether it be a meteor crashing into West Edmonton Mall or a nuclear weapon annihilating Oakville, it would mean that we're finally taking our own existence seriously enough to consider its end. To imagine our own exit would announce that we've finally arrived.